Thus goes an old Hebrew folk song that gives us the name for this unique tour. For 12 days — July 13-25, 2023 — we will relive the Jewish story in Central and Eastern Europe and learn what the tragic history of Poland and the Jewish experience there can teach us about living in our own chaotic times.
- We will look at the culture of the shtetl (a small Jewish town) and Hassidic spirituality.
- We will also study Jewish reactions to the Enlightenment, Socialism, and the arrival of Zionism.
- We will surely not ignore the traumatic events of two world wars and will devote a considerable portion of our time to discussing the “Final Solution”. In particular, we will use Christopher Browning’s important book Ordinary Men to follow the footsteps of Reserve Police Battalion 101. Browning’s work will help us understand why and how so many “ordinary” Germans became willing accomplices in a genocide that murdered 90 percent of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews.
Our studies of Jewish history will be done within the context of wider Polish history. Where appropriate, such as in Warsaw and Bialystock, we will discuss the existence of Hebrew Christian communities that existed before the war and examine the contours of modern Jewish messianism from Shabbtai Zvi to Theodor Herzl, and from the Holocaust to the State of Israel. Finally, we will look at Jewish life today when visiting active synagogues and community centers.
Our tour will take us through a wide swath of eastern and southern Poland, from Warsaw to Bialystok and from Lublin in the East to Cracow in the South. We will visit beautiful medieval cities, castles, and churches to better understand the general historical context of the Polish Jewish experience. We will learn about the precarious Polish geo-political position in Europe, the role of the Catholic Church, and its changing relationship with the Jewish people.
We will also review some of the key teachings of Pope John Paul II:
- his call for conversion and holiness as the proper response to God’s mercy and the way to address the anxiety and guilt of our age,
- culture as the key to history and hence the key to political change,
- freedom of religion as the most fundamental of all human rights and more.
This is a study tour, although there will be time set aside for reflection, discussion, and daily worship. If you are interested in learning more about the Jewish people and Polish history by looking at the history of one of the most important Jewish spiritual and cultural centers, join us for 13 fascinating days in Poland.